Message to UF Drug Discovery Symposium participants and CNPD3 supporters

UF Drug Discovery Symposium participants and CNPD3 supporters:

Thanks to all participants, especially keynote and invited speakers, session chairs, students, and the team behind the scenes for making this virtual 4th UF Drug Discovery Symposium another success.  The pandemic and a Zoom crash could not stop us!

Drug Discovery SymposiumTo recap, the jam-packed two-day symposium underscored that Florida is a powerhouse in drug discovery with diverse complementary expertise across the state.  Communication is key for synergy, which we tried to achieve with this event through Zoom and Gather Town platforms, and hopefully soon again through in-person interactions.  Clearly, there is no substitute for personal interaction (even in times of AI).  The future is bright in many ways: excellent student presentations add to the hope, and the great turnout at the poster sessions triggered many discussions and a lot of exchange (while improving everybody’s Nintendo gaming skills in Gather Town).

The main scientific messages were to find and take advantage of our niches, and we have many!  As academics, we probably don’t want to compete with Pharma as we can’t throw an army of people at problems, but instead work hard and smart.  The symposium has shown that natural products of diverse biosynthetic origins, neglected by Pharma, are oftentimes complex yet terrific starting points for drug discovery, ranging from terpenoids, modified peptides, alkaloids, polyketides and hybrids.  Even seemingly boring lipids are cool modulators of function.  Natural products, of course, provide unique opportunities in that they can be linked to biosynthetic gene clusters that can be manipulated for genome-based drug discovery.  Mixture deconvolution (characteristic for natural products discovery) can be adapted for combinatorial chemistry.  We addressed the issue of achieving selectivity of natural products and also synthetic compounds through development of ADCs, but also demonstrated that some of us are pros and prodigies in making prodrugs and PROTACs – “pro” was a widely used prefix at the symposium.  Not all drug discovery starting points have to be natural or even synthetic, as “artificial” was the word of day 2, including artificial intelligence, artificial peptides & proteins. Perhaps especially the AI talks were eye-opening to many in the audience, but we also learned about “deep dreaming” (with eyes wide open). And “seeing-is-believing,” as highlighted in an enlightening imaging session.

Drug Discovery SymposiumWith respect to targets and mechanisms, particularly Dr. Mooberry’s keynote lecture emphasized that target does not equal mechanism, and for microtubule drugs even multimode mechanisms of action exist despite on-target pharmacology: microtubules are busy highways and not narrow one-way streets.  GPCRs and proteases as well as protein-protein interactions were other common themes across oral and poster sessions, but we were also convinced about emerging targets such as solute-like carrier proteins.  Target ID after phenotypic screening is a major bottleneck in drug discovery and quite difficult and usually requires collaboration with chemical biologists.  Chemoproteomics was showcased as a powerful tool for selectivity profiling. At the end of the day (literally), stability and delivery of therapeutics to the target site is critical, and the audience was inspired by amazing bioinspired natural delivery that was presented.

Drug Discovery SymposiumLastly, we “decided” that there won’t be a pandemic in 2023 and that we gather at the beach instead of Gather Town and chose the Whitney Marine Lab as the tentative venue in April 2023.  The UFDDS is the only Florida-wide drug discovery symposium, but we hope that we could inspire other institutions to have similar events in off-years.

Congratulations to the winners of the poster and oral sessions! Each received a certificate and a $200 cash award.


Drug Discovery SymposiumPoster Presentation Winners (Graduate)

Genome based drug discovery

Krishna Patel: Department of Chemistry, UF

Emma Stowell: Department of Chemistry, UF


Natural products-based drug discovery & pharmacology 

Lisa Wilson: Department of Pharmacodynamics, University of Florida


Synthesis driven drug discovery 

Zhishen Wang: Department of Medicinal Chemistry, UF


Chemical biology and mode of action studies 

Lobna Elsadek: Department of Medicinal Chemistry, UF


Poster Presentation Winners (Postdoctoral)

Tengfei Bian: Department of Medicinal Chemistry, UF


Poster Presentation Winners (Undergraduate)

Elijah Abraham: Department of Biology and Genetics Institute, UF


Oral Presentation Winners (Graduate)

Amy Alleyne: Department of Pharmacodynamics, UF

Kelton Schleyer: Department of Medicinal Chemistry, UF


Oral Presentation Winners (Postdoctoral)

Pratik Pal: Guangrong Zheng; Department of Medicinal Chemistry, UF



4th UFDDS was sponsored by


Drug Discovery Symposium Drug Discovery Symposium


Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D.
Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development
Professor and Chair, Department of Medicinal Chemistry
Director of Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development (CNPD3)